Gritty Not Pretty: I Conquered the Phoenix Summit Challenge

Kate from our Take a Hike With Kate series is back with her Phoenix Summit Challenge recap — she did it! Kate is a writer and PR and marketing consultant from Phoenix. She’s a runner, swimmer and tri-athlete in training.

It’s been three days since I hiked to four Summits in Phoenix — and my lower calf muscles are still sore and tight. The rest of me, survived. On Saturday, November 15, I hiked 18 miles and 3,800 feet in eight hours.

It all began at 7:30 a.m. when I arrived at South Mountain to check in and hop on the bus that would take the group to the Alta trail-head for the Phoenix Summit Challenge. It was chilly in the morning but it quickly warmed up on the trail. On the trail there were whole groups of people dressed up in costumes, avid hikers and solo hikers (like me!).

“PHX 4” is part of the Phoenix Seven Summits Challenge. This events has an eight-hour time cap and includes four summits (Alta, Holbert Trail, Piestewa Peak and Shaw Butte) for a total of 17.94 miles with an approximate 3,800-foot elevation gain.

Alta and Holbert are longer trails at South Mountain, with switchbacks and some steepness towards the middle to the end. Shaw Butte’s route was flat in the beginning and then it was nearly straight-up to the summit. Piestewa Peak (one of my normal trails to hike) is basically straight up and punishing to even the most fit. It’s pretty much the Stairmaster from hell, and the the route taken this day at Piestewa included roughly a half mile on either end of another trail in the area. In other words, even the four summits distance in this event covers a lot of distance and a lot of climbing. Of course with most climbs come incredible views and since the event was on a clear, sunny day in Phoenix (as is usually the case) the views were wonderful.


Now in its tenth year, finishing this event is all about timing. From start-times, check-ins and driving distance between trails, the Phoenix Summit Challenge keeps you on your toes. If you figure the average hiker covers 2.5 miles an hour while climbing, the total mileage of the four summit challenge would take 7.2 hours to complete. The challenge cut-off to begin up the final trail was 5 p.m. The bus didn’t arrive at the first trailhead until 8:15 a.m. Factor-in weariness, drive-time, parking time and time to change clothes and eat and finishing is a challenge.

That said, I highly recommend signing up for the event. It’s relatively well organized and while I would have preferred an earlier start, the organizers seemed to have all the timing down pat. If you train hard for the event, it is possible to finish any of the challenges, maybe by a hair — but hey — that’s the fun right? Even with training it’s an event that requires you to be on point, physically and mentally.

On the way back down my final summit I ran into friends who were doing all seven summits and were on their way to their final summit. While the event seemed fun to do with a group, I met lots of friendly people on the way up the trails and I was glad to be able to go at my own pace. Especially on the way up my last big climb, as my hips were in shooting pain and I was going in slow motion. I was hot and I could smell myself. Yeah, gross. It wasn’t pretty — but at least I didn’t have to worry about slowing anyone else down.

Co-incidentally, or foolishly, I was signed up to volunteer early the following morning at the Ironman Arizona race. Talk about giving me some perspective! Still sore from the previous day’s event, I watched as many amazing athletes pushed themselves to the limit … then watched many of them cross the finish line 16 hours later from a comfy sofa seat at my home. Yeah, my 8-hour hiking day seemed less monumental after that … but I know I rose to finish my own challenge. Who knows, maybe an Ironman is in my future.

What’s the biggest physical challenge you’ve done? —Kate

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